Laws of Attraction
Part of the After Hours Trilogy
Litigation attorney, Kelly Brandon, lands the case of her career when a college friend shares that she’s been sexually harassed by a popular baseball player. Inspired by her sister’s suicide a year ago, Kelly is determined to bring this offender to some form of justice. What she doesn’t expect is learning that the crisis manager hired to save the day for the ballplayer is Sterling Layne, a blind date turned one-night stand that Kelly tried valiantly to forget. Now, together, Sterling and Kelly must work to find a solution that works for everyone involved, while trying to resist the attraction that’s been steadily brewing since their first date. But there’s another aspect to this case that neither of them expect and when the danger reveals itself, Kelly and Sterling will be forced to take a long, hard look at the lives they’ve been leading and the future they are working toward.
This book is also available in the After Hours print anthology.
Laws of Attraction
Kelly Brandon’s career began with black Decoltish Louboutins, a gray pinstripe pantsuit, diamond stud earrings and a speech she’d rewritten no less than ten times in the last twenty-four hours.
“Takana Rivers is very brave in her decision to speak out against the unlawful treatment she was subjected to at the hands of Ronnel Chambers. I applaud her for daring to stand strong in the hope that she can stop this from happening to another woman.”
Kelly paused for effect. Or rather to take a deep, calming breath. Her heart rate steadily quickened as she continued to read each word of her five-minute introduction for today’s press conference. Her shoulders were squared and she stood tall and strong behind the podium that had been set up in the front lobby of the Baltimore City office of Page & Associates—one of the largest law firms in the city where she’d worked as an associate for the last year and a half. But that was a charade. She’d rehearsed this statement numerous times and last night had paced the floors of her high-rise Canton apartment convincing herself that she was doing the right thing and that Kamrin would be proud of her.
“We implore Ronnel Chambers and his legal team to take a long, hard look at the complaint that has been filed, and to do the right thing,” Kelly continued.
There were dozens of people crowding the space leading to the bank of elevators, camera lights flashed incessantly as recorders and additional microphones were thrust in her direction. All eyes were on her and she was determined to make it count. She was determined to seek justice for the woman standing behind her, in a way that she’d never been allowed to do for her twin sister.
“Takana Rivers is not standing here today, ready to tell the world her story solely in the hope of financial gain. She is standing here today as an intercessor for others who still live in fear. She is sharing her story so that she might give other women who have shared her experience a voice.”
To give Kamrin Lisette Brandon a voice.
“Page & Associates are proud to represent her,” Kelly finished. She paused and tried valiantly to push back the lump which had formed in her throat at the memory of her sister, and all that she’d gone through before taking her last breath. Kelly gave a brief nod to the crowd of reporters who were already hurling questions in her direction and took a step away from the podium.
Derrick Holmes, the managing partner, would take it from here. He would stand at his full six-foot stature and give his most charming smile, while smoothly dodging questions that might reveal case strategy or too many client details. All Kelly and her client had to do now was stand there and not look like their lives would be forever altered from this moment on.
A long fifteen minutes passed before Derrick bid everyone a cheerful farewell and declared the press conference over. Reporters still clamored for answers to their questions and camera flashes continued to snap, but Kelly was more than through. She’d known the moment her former college roommate, Takana, had showed up at her apartment and downed almost a bottle of pinot noir before opening up about her experience with the baseball player, that this case was going to be unlike anything she could imagine.
It was also the biggest case she’d had the chance to handle during her eighteen months at the firm. After a one-year appellate clerkship where she’d done nothing but write one opinion after another, Kelly had been eager to dip her feet into the litigation pool. Unfortunately, after receiving the job offer of a lifetime at one of the city’s most prestigious firms, she’d been relegated to answering discovery and drafting responses to motions and briefs. This case would be her first time sitting at the trial table in a courtroom. If it went that far.
“You did great up there,” Jayda said as she looped her arm through Kelly’s and fell into step beside her while she walked through the lobby.
Derrick had shuffled Takana down the hall toward the stairs that would lead up one floor to his office. Kelly was supposed to meet them there in ten minutes.
“It was tougher than I thought it would be,” she admitted to Jayda.
“That’s how you know it’s going to be worth it,” Jayda continued. “You’re going to win this case for her and make this firm a hell of a lot of money in the process. Your future as a partner here just got a little brighter.”
Kelly and Jayda began working at the firm in the same month. But while Kelly was in litigation, Jayda had found her dream position in the corporate department.
“Not if Derrick has anything to do with it,” Kelly said when they turned the last corner and came to the hallway where the associates’ smaller offices were.
Kelly walked into hers and went straight to her desk. Opening the bottom drawer, she retrieved her purse and then leaned forward to tap the keys on her laptop until it came to life.
“I have to get upstairs before he starts paging me,” Kelly told Jayda who had already sat in one of the guest chairs and crossed her long legs.
“Why didn’t he just let her come to the office with you? He’s been doing so much lately,” Jayda quipped.
Kelly agreed with a nod as she continued to scroll quickly through her emails. Nothing she couldn’t respond to when she returned, so she moved away from the desk and slipped the purse strap over her shoulder. She pulled her cell phone out of her jacket pocket and paused as her lock screen background became visible. The snapshot was of her and Kamrin the day they graduated from law school. Kelly had decided to wear a pearl-gray dress while Kamrim the more vivacious of the two, wore a bold black and white stripped dress and coordinating white jacket. Their smiles were brilliant, pride and excitement evident in their stance. But Kamrin’s eyes were different in the picture, Kelly could see that now. Her breath caught and tears misted her eyes before she blinked furiously to keep them from falling. Swiping the background away with her finger, Kelly made a mental note of a text message notice from her mother because that was bound to be bad. Time consuming and nerve wrecking was more like it. She locked her phone again and slipped it back into her pocket.
“Don’t I know it,” she said, jumping right back into the conversation with Jayda. “But I’m headed up there now. The car I reserved that dropped Takana off this morning is waiting on Redwood Street.”
“Is the plan to take her down the service elevator? What are you going to do after that? Those reporters may have cleared off this floor by now, but I’m betting they’ll be camped out downstairs trying to get more pictures and hopefully a quote from Takana. They’re so disgusting.”
Kelly agreed with Jayda about the reporters.
“No. I ‘m going to take her down the service elevator and through Maggie’s and use their side entrance on Redwood to make our escape. Hopefully none of the reporters are hungry and sitting in there grabbing lunch. They’re disgusting and guileless, but we need them, especially for this case. The more media coverage we can get, the more likely Ronnel’s fans will rally against him, forcing him to pay up.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Jayda said. “But I still should have pushed that one that asked Takana if she were the groupie that had been stalking Ronnel for the last four months.”
Jayda had finally stood, her short cap of bronze frosted hair framing a pixie-like face. Kelly looked over her shoulder at her as she walked toward the door and smiled. “Then I would have to stop by Central Booking to bail you out after I dropped Takana off at her apartment.”
“Oh no, I wasn’t about to get caught. I told you I ran track in high school and college,” Jayda replied.
They chuckled as they walked down the hall and were just about to head toward the elevators when Kelly stopped.
Once again, her heart thumped wildly in her chest. Her body went still and she couldn’t stop staring.
“Girl, what’s your problem? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Jayda was saying.
Kelly didn’t look at her. She couldn’t. She could only stare at him.
He was talking on his cell phone and waiting for the elevator. Tall, muscled—even dressed in a black suit and shiny dress shoes, she remembered his body’s build—and domineering. It was him.
No. It couldn’t be. Not after all this time.
Why would he show up here? Now?
“Kelly?” Jayda called to her but was now pulling on her arm as well.
“What?” Kelly replied. “Oh, I’m sorry. I mean, nothing’s wrong. Just thought I’d left something in my office.”
“Ah, ok, well if so, you’d better leave it there because Derrick just had you paged,” Jayda told her as she rolled her eyes upward to their overhead paging system.
With an irritated sigh, Kelly walked toward the elevators. There was no one there now. His elevator must have come. Of course, it had, she told herself as she pressed the UP button. That’s what happened when people waited for elevators. Besides, it wasn’t him. It couldn’t be.
At least she prayed it wasn’t.
Seeing her blind date turned one-night stand from six months ago was not on her agenda today.
Seven hours had passed since he’d last seen her. Six months and three days, since the time before when she’d lay sleeping in his arms as the sun broke through the early morning clouds.
Sterling shook his head to clear his mind of that memory. He’d thought he’d buried it a while ago, but it was back with a vengeance. He stepped slowly off the elevator, walking in measured steps across the dark gray carpet of the office. This was his second time walking this path today. The first time he’d been sure to pay the front desk attendant in the building’s main lobby enough so that there would be no questions when he returned. Because he’d known he would be back. He didn’t have any other choice.
The location of her office had cost him more than the two hundred dollars he’d given that attendant. He’d actually had to ask the receptionist, who’d been vigilantly guarding the front desk at Page & Associates, for her phone number to get the information he wanted. Of course, he had no intention of ever calling her, just as he hadn’t called Kelly Brandon after their first date.
Rubbing a hand down his bearded jaw, Sterling realized that was no longer his only item of contention with the tenacious litigator.
Most of the office was dark, computers sat on desks in empty cubicles that would be filled with employees come tomorrow morning at nine. Tomorrow was Friday and Sterling was looking forward to wrapping up loose ends on a prior case and finally getting a handle on this new incident. He had statements already prepared and ready to go out to the press on his command, while his investigator was firming up his final report of the incident and would have it on Sterling’s desk no later than noon tomorrow. He could finish early at the office for a change and head to Prince George’s County to visit his Aunt Lola a bit before the baby shower for his cousin, Andie. Family was first—that’s the way they’d been brought up. Aunt Lola had been sure to keep that, among many of their other Afro-Caribbean customs and traditions after moving from Trinidad to the U.S. just before Sterling was born. In the last year, Sterling had become so busy with his company, he’d almost forgotten that fact. But he planned to make amends.
He stopped at the closed door, pushing back all thoughts of the aunt who’d raised him after his mother’s death.
There was a plaque beside the door with Kelly’s name in bold white print. He stared at it for a couple seconds before he realized he was either stalling or gathering his nerve. Both things he didn’t do often. But it wasn’t everyday a guy had to face the first woman to ever rattle his ego in a way that had him racing to get away from her before she could do any further damage. Still, there were more important matters at this moment. This visit was about business.
He knocked on the door.
“Come in,” was the reply from inside the office.
He turned the knob and pushed the door open. He stepped inside and let his gaze rest on her again. It was different looking at her now, as she sat in the high-back office chair, behind a desk covered in papers and dual computer screens in front of her. This afternoon he’d had an unfettered view of her standing at that podium speaking as if she could become the nation’s first woman African American president.
Much as he did in the first few minutes after Kelly had stood behind those microphones this afternoon. He was mesmerized by her and shocked by how swift and potent that feeling overtook him each time he saw her.
Kelly Brandon, twenty-nine-year-old graduate of Brighton Cape University and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Five feet nine inches of subtle curves and deep sepia-toned skin. Her black hair hung straight past her shoulders, feathered back stylishly at her face. Full lips were glossed while brown eyes widened in shock.
“Hello, Kelly,” he said, when his brain was finally able to process the simple greeting.
She sat up straighter in the chair, her hands moving from her keyboard to fall into her lap. “Sterling Layne,” she replied.
Well, at least she remembered his name. Sterling wondered if there was anything else about their one and only date that she recalled.
“It’s good to see you again,” he said and took another few steps until he was standing beside a hunter green guest chair across from her desk.
“It’s been six months,” she said as she looked up to him. “And it’s nine-thirty in the evening. What are you doing in my office?”
He could do business first. They should probably only do business. Wasn’t that why he’d refused to call her after their night together? Because there was something about her that warned him not to get too personal.
Sterling pushed the side of his jacket back and slipped a hand into his front pant pocket. “I saw your press conference earlier today.”
One neatly arched eyebrow lifted. “You did?”
“It was broadcasted live on all the local stations and picked up by the national outlets not even an hour later. Suing ace pitcher Ronnel Chambers is a big deal,” he told her.
“Ballplayers abusing women is a bigger deal,” she quipped.
He nodded his agreement.
“We’re on the same page,” Sterling said. “That’s why I’m here to help you.”
She smiled. His gut clenched.
“I don’t believe I need your help, Sterling. But thanks so much for the kind offer.”
She stood, came around the desk and walked past him. The perfume she wore smelled like honey and roses. When he turned to see where she was going, he caught a glimpse of her ass swaying in the fitted pants she wore. Her blouse was white, long sleeved and cool like her demeanor. She touched the knob of the door and turned back to face him.
“You can go now,” she announced.
No, she hadn’t forgotten their one night together. He could tell by the momentary flicker of desire he’d seen in her eyes as she’d continued to stare at him when he walked in. Yes, she was giving him a stellar dismissal now. That meant she was still pissed that he hadn’t called her back. That could be a good or a bad sign, if he were inclined to believe in such frivolities. But Sterling was a man of facts and solutions. Action and reaction. So instead of taking her not-so-subtle hint, he pulled his hand from his pocket and moved back. He leaned on the edge of her desk, crossed his legs at the ankle and folded his arms over his chest.
“Or I can tell you that I’ve already initiated a full background check on Takana Rivers. In a matter of hours, I’ll know everything about her. From the second she was born, to this afternoon when the rented Lincoln Town Car drove her to her residence in Bolton Hill.”
And the eyes that previously flashed with desire switched to intrigue, and then irritation, as Kelly closed her office door.
Sterling smiled as she faced him once more.
This woman still intrigued the hell out of him. She lifted one perfectly shaped eyebrow and he said, “I thought that would change your mind.”
This was the part where all the self-control she could muster was required and the cool aloofness she’d honed during trial team competitions came in to play.
Kelly walked past Sterling again, but this time on steadier legs. Every part of her body was poised and moved with precision. Even though she was a jittery mess on the inside. She moved to stand behind her desk once more, surrounding herself with the safety of what she knew well. To her left was a shelf full of books—some on law, grammar and punctuation, the Civil Rights Movement, fashion and the best places to dine in Baltimore. To her right, another shelf with the coffee mugs she collected on top and her case files stored neatly and alphabetically beneath. Behind her, on the wall above the chair was a framed black and white print of Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. She pulled the chair out and sat down slowly.
He hadn’t moved from where he’d perched himself on the other side of her desk. That wasn’t enough distance. Still, she was determined to think beyond the broad span of his back and shoulders and the alluring earthy scent of his cologne. It would be better if he were standing near the door as he had when he’d first arrived. She would be able to handle this confrontation or meeting, or whatever it was, better. But as it stood, he was giving her no choice but to adhere to the situation at hand. That thought struck her as ironic considering the type of case she was currently working on.
Had Takana been in a similar situation when she’d tried to protect herself, and her job, against Ronnel Chambers? Had Kamrin?
“You own a PR firm in D.C.,” Kelly said abruptly to break through her unwanted thoughts. “Why are you in Baltimore following my client?”
He moved slowly. She would say methodically, but it looked too natural. Sterling was tall—six feet five inches to be exact—with an easy swagger that could leave a woman breathless, just before his half smile had her clenching her thighs together tightly.
“It’s my job,” he replied when they were once again facing each other.
His arms fell to his side as he stepped to the left and took a seat in one of the guest chairs. Now they were eye level and Kelly pulled herself closer to the desk, letting her elbows rest on the floral calendar desk blotter that she’d scribbled notes and telephone numbers on.
He swallowed and she watched his Adam’s apple move with the motion. His beard was fuller than it had been six months ago. Coal black hair that matched the short tight curls on his head. He was a shade or so lighter than her deep brown complexion with eyes that narrowed when he smiled.
No, he was trouble, she corrected, pure and simple.
“Your job is to follow my clients? Why? Because of the one night we had together? That’s ridiculous.” She had to clasp her fingers together as she set her hands on the desk to thwart the need to reach out and touch him.
He was muscled everywhere, she recalled, biceps like cannons and thick thighs that made her mouth water. That black suit didn’t hide a damn thing.
“You were here for the press conference, weren’t you? I saw you when you were leaving,” she said even though her throat was now dry.
“Yes. I was here,” he replied and lifted one hand to rub a finger over his bearded chin. “Ronnel Chambers is my client.”
Kelly hated repeating herself, especially when she knew the person she was speaking to had heard whatever she said. And when she was in a conversation, she usually gave it her complete attention. But this, she needed to hear what he’d just said one more time.
“I want to work this out as quietly and diplomatically as possible. I’m sure Takana would like that too. You’re an intelligent attorney, a rising star, as the Charm City Law Journal stated in the article written about you. I’m sure we can figure out a way to satisfy both our clients without any outside interference.”
“Ronnel has a team of attorneys. You’re in crisis management,” she recalled from their conversation over dinner at Plume. An hour before they booked a room at The Jefferson and spent one explosive night in bed together.
He smiled. That sexy half smile that made her wonder if he was sharing the same memory she just had.
“It’s my specialty,” he told her.
She shook her head and looked away briefly. “Great. So, you intend to smear my client, to save yours.”
“I intend to find some even ground between the two so that Ronnel’s attorneys can come up with a reasonable settlement.”
“And my client can be on her way. She’s not in it for the money. He intimidated and humiliated her on numerous occasions just because she wouldn’t sleep with him.”
Ronnel Chambers had groped Takana, cornered her in a dressing room and yanked her wrist toward him so that she gripped his crotch, forcefully kissed her until she bit his tongue and then—because that just wasn’t enough—he’d fired her from her stylist position and promised to hinder any future job searches. He was an opportunistic abuser who Kelly couldn’t wait to bring down.
“I’m not here to argue what did or didn’t happen. I’m giving you a heads up that I’m looking into things. The minute I find something of note, I’ll share. We can go from there,” he said as simply as if he’d just given her the time of day.
Kelly sat back in her chair and shrugged. “I didn’t agree to us working together. In fact, I think there’s a glaring conflict of interest here. Whatever you may find in your backdoor searches, you use it to try and make your client look good in all of this. As for me, I’ll stick with the law and will prepare my case accordingly.”
“Trust me, it’s better if we try to work this out together, Kelly. As for the conflict, it was just one night.”
Just one night. It sure was. And if he could sit there and appear so calm and smug about it, then so could she.
“You’re right. It was just like any other night,” she said. “But the conflict I was referring to is the fact that you work for the man I’m trying to get to admit he has a problem and to make amends for how his personal issues have affected my client.”
He stood and she tilted her head back to hold eye contact with him. He came around the desk, planted one hand where her elbows had been on the blotter and another on the back of her chair. Then he leaned in close. Too close.
Her breath hitched and she struggled not to make a sound that would give away her immediate discomfort.
“I don’t want this case to break you,” he said. “Let me help work it out. You’ll be Takana’s hero and your star will keep rising.”
He was so close. If she closed her eyes, she would easily be back in that hotel room, her naked body beneath his, him pounding his thick length into her as if she owed him something other than the orgasm that followed. She took a quick breath and released it slowly while leaning forward to the point where—if she wanted to—they could have kissed.
“I don’t want to break you,” she replied. “I’ll work my case and you work yours.”
They stared at each other for long silent seconds. Her heart hammering against her chest, his dark gaze sending sizzling holes into her skin. She wouldn’t back down, not from him or anyone else. And the only reason she hadn’t forcefully moved him out of her space herself, or better yet, called security to do it, was because of that one night.
“Fine,” he replied. “But it just dawned on me that I spoke in error. It wasn’t “just one night”. You know it and so do I.”
It only took a slight motion to close the tiny space between them and when he did, his tongue stroked along her lips. Surprise coupled with sparks of pleasure shot through her body like an explosion and her lips parted. Amused at the reaction he was most likely anticipating, she watched his lips quirk, before they plundered hers.
His tongue moved swiftly, dipping inside her mouth and twirling around as if to show ownership. Her traitorous tongue, accepted the intrusion, easing around his in an erotic dance that reached liked sneaky little fingers straight down her chest and past her torso to stop at her pussy which now throbbed in response. It was a hungry kiss, a greedy interlude that ignited the fire she’d banked from that night six months ago. Now her body was ablaze with arousal, her fingers itching to reach up and cup the back of his head to hold him still. Her thighs trembled as she fought back the urge to spread them wide and let him inside.
She tore her mouth away from his, turning her head so she could catch her breath and avoid him making another attempt at kissing her.
His breath came in heaving pants just like hers, she could hear it and felt a fraction of triumph that she hadn’t been the only one affected by that kiss. Seconds later, he pushed away from her and walked out of her office with the same easy-going swagger he’d come in with. And five minutes later, Kelly folded her arms on the desk and dropped her head onto them.
Sterling Layne was working for Ronnel Chambers.
Sterling Layne had been in her office, kissing her until she was ready to once again drop her panties to the floor at his command.
Sterling Layne, the man who’d opened a door she’d thought she’d locked for good.
Derrick Holmes nodded in greeting when the man dressed in a black suit and speaking on a cell phone stepped onto the elevator. He lifted his wrist and checked his watch for the time. Just a little after ten. He wondered who was still working at this hour.
Of course, he’d been, that’s how he’d become the youngest to ever make partner at Page & Associates. His name had been immediately shifted to the left side of the letterhead and he’d been awarded a coveted corner office when he was featured in the Super Lawyers listing after he’d won an eight figure award in a medical malpractice case that rocked one of the highest ranking hospitals in the nation. That had been a defining moment for Derrick. One that gave insight into the type of man he was meant to become.
The elevator doors opened and Derrick let the man step out first. Following him, Derrick watched as the man turned left and walked toward the lobby entrance. With his briefcase in one hand, car keys in the other, Derrick went to the right where there was another set of doors leading to the parking garage. His Tom Ford lace-up shoes clicked along the concrete as he made his way down two aisles of cars. Pressing a button on his keychain the doors to his Mercedes-AMG E63 Sedan were unlocked and the engine started.
He was two cars away from his vehicle by that time and already there was an eerie feeling settling in the pit of his stomach.
Derrick wasn’t superstitious. His grandmother and great-uncle were and had spent their later years in the three-story house in southwest Baltimore, predicting what would happen to family members and neighbors based on supernatural causations that had been passed down throughout the family. Derrick believed in action and reaction and the moment he stopped in front of his car; his reaction was to curse. Long, hard and fluently.
The obsidian black metallic paint that he’d loved the moment he saw it on the showroom floor, was ripped away from the trunk as deep, jagged scratches stretched from one end to the next. Derrick dropped his briefcase and stepped closer to the back end of his car. The scratches trailed off on the driver’s side and he gritted his teeth as he walked between his car and the SUV parked on the other side. The trail continued until he was standing by the front tire staring down at the hood of his car where “LIAR” was scratched deep into the surface.
He wanted to yell. No, he wanted to punch whoever had done this to his three-month old car square in the face. That wasn’t going to happen, he thought as he thrust his hand into his pant pocket and retrieved his cell phone. He couldn’t punch that person because he knew exactly who’d done this. And even though Derrick never listened to his grandmother’s superstitious warnings, he’d heard her loud and clear each time she’d told him never to put his hands on a woman.
What he was going to do was call the police. He was tired of playing games, especially ones that were going to cost him. While he waited for the police to arrive Derrick walked around the car snapping pictures on his phone. Each one made him even angrier, so much so that his hand had begun to shake, resulting in a few out of focus shots. He was deleting one of those fuzzy pictures when a call came through.
The screen said the caller’s identification was “Unavailable”, but Derrick knew who it was and he didn’t answer. He wanted her to leave another message like the ones she’d left on his work phone that he’d deleted because he hadn’t wanted anyone in the firm to know she was contacting him. But Derrick didn’t think he would be able to stop what seemed inevitable now.
Two minutes later, his phone beeped with the notification that he had a message and he called the voice mail to listen to it. He was frowning as he heard her voice and cursed again just as the police car pulled up.
The youngest partner at Page & Associates was about to file a police report against a woman who also worked at the firm. He was going to have to tell another person about everything he’d endured for the last three months and then he was going to be forced to keep his cool while those other persons looked at him in disbelief, the same way Takana Rivers had described the way Ronnel Chambers’ manager had looked at her when she’d told him what the star pitcher of the Vegas Blackjacks had done.
end of excerpt
Laws of Attraction
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